Poppy was convinced she had finally succumbed to space sickness. Her long, solitary trek and the loss of her entire crew to the perils of harsh planet exploration broke her spirit and snapped her sanity.
It was impossible for a standard-argot speaking human to be standing in front of her, telling her she was an expected visitor to an unchartered, unexplored planet lightyears away from home Earth. Poppy scuttled backward away from her captor until she butted against the walls of the grotto.
The man watched her with undisguised amusement while he shrugged out of his hazmat suit. Beneath the protective gear, he wore obviously handcrafted clothes. Well-made, but rustic, his dungarees were sewn what appeared to be remnants of solar sails, and his shirt, laced up the front with strips of tanned leather, was made from woven fabric the color of cream.
Poppy would later help the settlers tend the native ovine-like creatures whose wool was used to make many of the planet’s textiles. The settlement had also domesticated bovine and porcine fauna, equine, and various avian creatures. The only animal they didn’t consume were from the sea. The salinity of the water made any sea life toxic.
“I already know who you are, but until we can get properly acquainted, I’ll introduce myself,” he said with a hint of laughter in his voice. “I’m called Arun.”
Kneeling so he was eye level with his guest, Arun offered his hand to Poppy. When she shrank away from his gesture, he sat in the dust in front of her, just outside of her reach.
“I imagine this is a lot to take in,” Arun said,“You have questions, and I’ll answer them all, first you need to be tended to. You’ve been space-locked for a long time and need to decompress.”
Poppy squinted at her host, sure she was hallucinating and was in reality dying, trapped inside her ship’s cabin, starving and oxygen deprived.
Arun sat legs crossed, elbows on his knees, fingers steepled and resting under his chin, watching his guest closely. He called for a bota bag, barely turning his head so as not to look away from Poppy.
“You need to drink this slowly after being so long on space-lock rations,” Arun said holding out the water skin.
When Poppy didn’t accept the water, Arun took a long draw on the skin, then laid the bag on the ground between them.
“It’s safe,” he said toeing the bag closer to her.
Once Poppy accepted the gift of fresh, clean water, Arun moved away from her to speak with his crew, calling for the medic to come exam her.
“After doc has a chance to check her out, set her up in one of the empty cabins,” Arun said to his second, Rowen. “See to her every need.”
“When are you going to tell her?’ Rowen pointed over Arun’s shoulder to the grotto where Poppy was.
“Can she have a chance to settle in first?” Arun said, pushing Rowen’s arm down with one hand.
“She needs to know,” Rowen crossed her arms across her chest.
“And, I will tell her,” Arun said. “She’s gone through a lot, how do you think she’ll react if I tell her she isn’t lightyears away from Earth, but lightyears. She made a full circle, she just went the long way around.”
“The sooner, the better,” Rowan said, before leaving Arun, “for her, and you.”
Arun stood outside the grotto alone for a long time.
“Well, Capt. Poppy Spector, welcome home,” Arun said. “A few hundred years late, but finally home.”